National Museum of African Art, Washington DC

4.4
#31 of 70 in Museums in Washington DC
History Museum · Hidden Gem · Specialty Museum
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The National Museum of African Art is the Smithsonian Institution's African art museum, located on the National Mall of the United States capital. Its collections include 9,000 works of traditional and contemporary African art from both Sub-Saharan and North Africa, 300,000 photographs, and 50,000 library volumes. It was the first institution dedicated to African art in the United States and remains the largest collection. The Washington Post called the museum a mainstay in the international art world and the main venue for contemporary African art in the United States.

The museum was founded in 1964 by a Foreign Service officer and layman who bought African art objects in Germany and multiple houses in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in which to display them. The collection focused on traditional African art and an educational mission to teach black cultural heritage. To ensure the museum's longevity, the founder lobbied the national legislature to adopt the museum under the Smithsonian's auspices. It joined the Smithsonian in 1979 and became the National Museum of African Art two years later. A new, primarily underground museum building was completed in 1987, just off the National Mall and adjacent to other Smithsonian museums. It is among the Smithsonian's smallest museums.

The African art museum took a scholarly direction over the next twenty years, with less social programming. It collected traditional and contemporary works of historical importance. Exhibitions include both internal and borrowed works and have ranged from solo artists to broad survey shows. The museum hosts two to three temporary exhibitions and ten special events annually. The preferred abbreviation for its name is NMAfA.
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National Museum of African Art reviews

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  • Looking at the museum from the street, you might think it's very small. But it actually goes three floors down and has much larger galleries. I've seen a number of museums' African art exhibitions... 
    Looking at the museum from the street, you might think it's very small. But it actually goes three floors down and has much larger galleries. I've seen a number of museums' African art exhibitions...  more »
  • This underground museum features several interesting exhibits of various aspects of African art. I especially enjoyed the Heroes exhibit, with art inspired by various African heroes. 
    This underground museum features several interesting exhibits of various aspects of African art. I especially enjoyed the Heroes exhibit, with art inspired by various African heroes.  more »
Google
  • This definitely doesn't cover the entire continent and focuses more on western style art. Which is fine but I wouldn't too much consider it African. A lot of exhibits are closed or under maintenance. There were some artifacts I was definitely drawn towards that felt more authentic to me. Black American art is on display as African art which I feel can be more deeply examined. The Nollywood exhibit was nice and elegant. Many small gems that I was able to appreciate. I like that it is connected to the Asian Art museum and can be accessed through a door.
  • This museum is very interesting. I went with my boyfriend and they set up a portrait section and dressed us as Africans and took our pictures. It was a very fun experience and overall a great time. If you are sensitive to smells this place has a scent that is like blown threw the vents but I like the smell. Something very familiar but just can't place it. Also very accessible and elevator is placed nicely in relation to all the exhibits.

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